Board games and wooden horses are sooo analog. These days, it’s the digital stuff that rules the roost, including the hearts and minds of kids. Still, navigating the minefield that is today’s gadgets can be tough for folks not well-versed with what whippersnappers consider “cool” these days. To help you navigate these treacherous lands unscathed, I’ve put together a list of portable gadgets that are sure to make those rotten young scoundrels — er, wonderful children — shriek with glee. Without further ado, here are my top portable gadget picks for older kids and teens.
For gift ideas for younger children, you can also check out our previous Kids’ Electronics Guide.
If there ever was a sure thing when it comes to a gadget that’s universally liked by kids and teens, it would be this one. Chalk it up to a wide selection of apps that cater to kids of all ages as well as the ability to browse online and stream video. Add the “cool factor” associated with Apple products and you’ve got a recipe for success when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of young folk. The main drawback? It’s freaking expensive, which brings up that age-old debate of whether kids should be given such lavish presents. Buying an iPad mini or the older iPad 2, helps cut costs a bit.
Also consider: Apple iPod
Is the Apple iPad too pricey for your tastes? Then you can get an iPod instead. The iPod Touch, which is like a miniature iPad can still be expensive so the iPod Nano and Shuffle are potential options as well.
The old Nintendo DS, was incredibly popular with kids. Now the 3DS hopes to emulate the success of its predecessor while adding a new twist — mainly its 3D upper screen. Although the 3DS’ popularity skews younger, a wide selection of games makes this a good bet for older kids as well. A healthy offering of more casual fare also makes this popular with folks who aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers. Just be wary of overuse of the 3D screen by younger children since you don’t want them getting headaches or vision issues. Comes in regular 3DS and larger 3DS XL flavors
Also consider: Nintendo DS
It’s a little long in the tooth now but it’s got a large library and is also cheaper. Note that while the 3DS can play DS games, the DS can not play 3DS games.
Sony’s latest portable gaming console features a larger, gorgeous display as well as touchscreen functionality but no 3D. Unlike the 3DS, this tends to be more popular with older kids and teens who consider themselves “hardcore” gamers — especially males. Bundles also provide deals since they come with a free game. Since it’s fairly new, it also has more of a cool factor, though that also means its library of games is still fairly small.
Also consider: PSP
As with the Nintendo DS, the PSP is showing its age but also boasts a cheaper price tag and a bigger library of games.
Gaming headsets are especially popular with teen gamers, allowing them to not only listen to their game’s audio but also talk to other gamers via the attached mic. Skullcandy’s wired SLYR is an affordable headset that still churns out pretty good audio. An included mixer also allows users to plug in a different headphone if they wish, which is a pretty neat feature.
Unlike most of the gadgets on this list, this one has the least downside from a parental point of view because it encourages what’s typically considered a positive activity: reading. Getting an E Ink version of Amazon’s e-reader line also means your child will be looking at a medium that emulates the look of paper as opposed to an LCD screen that causes eye fatigue more quickly. Purchasing an older line like the Kindle Keyboard also saves money, though it doesn’t have a built in light for indoor or night reading.
Unlike Amazon’s e-reading devices, one positive about the Nook and Reader devices is that they don’t use a proprietary format for their e-books. That means e-books you buy from their online stores can be used on other e-reading devices as well.